I have always enjoyed looking at footprints in the sand. I like to guess what the person who passed before me looked like, dressed like, carried with them to the shore. What did they think about out here on the beach? Did they read or people watch? Were they happy? Did they walk the beach for much-needed alone time or walk with a friend or lover? Why did this person walk barefooted and this one wear shoes?
I recently had the opportunity to spend a long weekend at a friend’s beach house on the Isle of Palm in South Carolina. I love Carolina beaches. To me, there is nothing quite as lovely as kicking off your shoes under a bright Carolina blue sky and walking slowly beside the foamy water while holding the hand of someone you love. My husband and I had a blast and were thankful to be able to spend some time with both old and new friends.
As I always do, I focused in on the footprints during our daily walks. Because it was off-season, most of the footprints I saw while walking the beach that weekend were made by residents. Many of those full-timers had their dogs with them, and because there were few people out in the chilly October air, most of the dogs were allowed to run off leash.
On one of our morning walks, I saw two sets of footprints in the sand. The first set was made by a two-legged creature walking in a straight line, the second set was snakey and unpredictable and often intersected the straight line with its four paws. I was sure that the human and the canine would end up at the same place eventually, but they sure did take different routes getting there!
Most adults walk that straight line every day. We have obligations and bills to pay. We have much to accomplish in little time. We wake up and just hope we can keep putting one foot down in front of the other long enough to make it through the afternoon.
Dogs, on the other hand, move forward by going sideways, or even backward at times. They are led by smells and curiosity. By the wind, or the feel of the ground under their paws. Or the prospect of rolling in the sand or meeting up with a new four-legged friend. They set out running in one direction only to stop and turn around for no apparent reason to revisit something behind them.
I first noticed this behavior years ago when our Golden Retriever, Bido, was still alive. My husband and I would often take him for walks at a greenway near our house. On quiet days we would remove his leash and he would take off like a hyena with its hair on fire through the woods. We, of course, followed the path set out in front of us. We knew he would reappear when it was time to load up and go home, and he always did. Sometimes caked in mud or smelling of carrion, but he always showed up with a smile on his sweet face.
I found myself envying those carefree dogs last weekend. You see, I am a person who likes structure, so much so that if I am not careful I will schedule my day down to the minute. I am not particularly fond of surprises or sudden changes of plan. I like to make my bed first thing in the morning and put things in their proper place. I have goals and think the quickest, easiest, and most time efficient way to achieve them is by following that straight line. And although I am flexible in my body, my mind tends to follow preset paths I have laid out for myself.
But the prints I saw in the sand last weekend at the beach reminded me that I can still end up where I want to go even if I take a curvier, more creative path. I learned that I can afford the time to explore something new, even if it is on a side road. I can afford the time to revisit something behind me on occasion. I can afford to be curious. Those meandering footprints in the sand taught me that I can live with joyous abandon at times and still arrive at my destination. Just like dogs do.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
Get a free short story by signing up for Kris’ bi-weekly blog! And you can connect with Kris anytime on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest @kkrisloomis.